June 27, 2020
Welcome to a weekend edition of What They're Saying about the Eagles.
While we don't yet know for certain that the NFL season is going to go off as scheduled, especially with new cases of COVID-19 still on the rise in many parts of the country, that doesn't mean that the football news just stops. And if everything goes as planned — wear your masks if you want that to happen — the start of the NFL season is probably closer than you've even realized.
NFL season scheduled to kick off in 75 days.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 27, 2020
Of course, there are a lot of caveats to that, and with new cases rising coupled with players still needing to be tested, there's at least some cause for concern that the season will start on time. How the NBA, the NHL and MLB fare in their respective returns will likely be telling when it comes to the short-term future of football. But, at least for now, we're remaining cautiously optimistic that the NFL will be back in the fall.
And that's how we'll proceed from here, under the assumption that football will indeed be back in September. Because, let's be honest, we could really use a win.
Let's dive right in with a look at what they're saying...
Over at Pro Football Focus, Ben Linsey ranked all 32 NFL teams based solely on their on-paper roster. Obviously, as we've seen in the past, this is not necessarily an indication of how successful a team will be in the upcoming season, but with the start of the NFL season still *scrolls up* 75 days away, it's pretty much all we've got right now.
And the Eagles did pretty well for themselves in Linsey's rankings, cracking the top 10 despite some serious question marks on the roster, not to mention the recent loss of one of the NFL's best offensive linemen in Brandon Brooks. They were the fifth-highest ranked NFC team, and finished three spots behind their division rivals from Dallas.
9. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Biggest strength: The Eagles are one of the strongest teams in the NFL in the trenches. As a team, they finished the season with PFF's highest-graded offensive line, and their defensive line ranked fourth behind only the Steelers, 49ers and Rams. The defensive line is a group that should continue to improve with the additions of Javon Hargrave and a healthy Malik Jackson.
Biggest weakness: Linebacker is still a question mark for Philadelphia. Nathan Gerry figures to be atop the depth chart after more than 600 snaps of average play in 2019, but there's much less clarity behind him. Can T.J. Edwards break out after earning an 83.4 overall grade on just over 100 snaps last season? Will Jatavis Brown win a starting job after shaky play led to his role getting significantly reduced in 2019 with the Chargers? Rookie Davion Taylor will have a chance at playing time early, too. It's a group that still doesn't have much definition on what should be an improved defense overall.
X factor for 2020: Darius Slay‘s PFF grade in 2019 doesn't represent the kind of player that he has been throughout his career. The first thing to note is that he played a difficult role in Detroit, consistently shadowing the opposing team's best receiver in man coverage. Despite that, Slay came in as the fourth-most valuable cornerback in the NFL in 2014-18 per PFF WAR (wins above replacement), and his 74 forced incompletions over that stretch were the most in the NFL. Expect him to bounce back and give a big boost to that secondary. [pff.com]
Speaking of roster holes, specially the Brandon Brooks-sized gap on the right side of the offensive line, the Eagles will need to quickly address that issue. It will be tough, and they could simply opt to go next-man-up and replace Brooks internally. Or, they could deal a spare cornerback who never really caught on in Jim Schwartz' system in the hopes of replacing Brooks from the outside.
That's what Field Yates suggested in a recent post looking at several trades that made sense for both sides...
Seattle Seahawks trade OL Ethan Pocic to Philadelphia Eagles for CB Sidney Jones
Why the Seahawks do it: There was a point this offseason when 20% of Seattle's 90-man roster was dedicated to the offensive line, as the team added layers of depth and competition. The Seahawks are invariably going to have to move on from players who will enter training camp with the hopes of carving out a steady role; it's simply a numbers game. The secondary isn't as deep, which brings us back to the allure of Jones, a 2017 second-round pick who played his college ball locally at Washington.
Jones has some traits Seattle typically covets. He's 6-feet tall with 31½-inch arms and excellent speed. He has been inconsistent in Philadelphia, but it's a calculated addition for Seattle in a player who might be able to provide a spark in the secondary.
Why the Eagles do it: Following the devastating news that Brandon Brooks suffered a torn Achilles and will miss the 2020 season, Philly has a massive gap to fill along the offensive line. Matt Pryor, who started in place of Brooks because of an injury in last year's playoffs, is the likely starter, but there is room to add some depth.
Pocic has plenty of positional versatility (he has played both guard spots, center and right tackle) and was on track to a promising career as a rookie. Injuries derailed his 2019 season, and he has played in just 30 of 48 career games. But this would be a bet for Philly on the ability to develop him, the chance to pad depth at multiple spots and the reality that finding replacements in mid-June is not easy to accomplish. [espn.com]
While bringing in someone to fill in for Brooks would be the Eagles addressing an obvious need, there are still other options out there where Howie Roseman and Co. could potentially go big and add what would really be more of a luxury than anything else.
One of those options, perhaps the most obvious one, would be trading for Jets safety Jamal Adams, who is still on his rookie deal but wants out of New York in order to sign a more lucrative longterm extension. With Malcolm Jenkins gone, the Eagles plan to move Jalen Mills to safety to take over that important secondary role, but there's hardly any guarantee that it will be a smooth transition. Bringing in someone like Adams, who is still just 24 years old, would solve not only that issue, but would also answer the question of who lines up opposite Darius Slay at cornerback (it would be Mills).
In essence, all the Eagles secondary problems could be solved in one move.
The problem? The cost to acquire Adams. Not only will it likely cost a first-round pick-plus, but trading for Adams also means you're going to extend him and make him the highest-paid safety in football, which is what he's hoping to become. That's where this dream scenario begins to unravel for the Birds. Here's more from Danny Heifetz of The Ringer, who listed the Eagles as one of the most-likely suitors for Adams. But as we wrote in a recent WTS, the Eagles are always linked to potential blockbuster deals like this...
The Eagles need Adams as much as any team on this list except Dallas, their main competition for the NFC East title. This offseason the Eagles front office ousted safety Malcolm Jenkins, who led the team in tackles for five of the past six seasons. Rather than replacing Jenkins, the team traded a third-rounder for Lions cornerback Darius Slay, made him the league’s highest-paid cornerback, and planned to move cornerback Jalen Mills to safety. But adding Slay while losing Jenkins doesn’t change the fact that Philadelphia has lacked secondary depth for the last three seasons, including during their title run, when New England accrued a Super Bowl record 613 yards and did not punt. Adams would fit well in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s system as a versatile chess piece that can play in multiple spots, which is something the Eagles desperately need.
But the Eagles, like the Ravens, aren’t likely to trade high picks to pay players big money, especially when they have already traded a middle-round pick to pay a player big money this offseason. Philadelphia is much happier bargain-bin hunting than adding a player like Adams for a first-rounder and possibly more. Plus, Jets GM Joe Douglas came from the Philadelphia front office. That gives him a better relationship to make a trade with Eagles executive vice president Howie Roseman, but Roseman may be hesitant to hand out two big contracts to defensive backs acquired in the same offseason. [theringer.com]
Earlier this month, Doug Pederson had some interesting comments on injured wideout Alshon Jeffery's future with the team. Before getting into this one, we'll leave the question and answer right here so you can view it in full context.
Q. What update do you have on where WR Alshon Jeffery is in his recovery, and as you put plans together for the offense, are you counting on Alshon to be a part of it this season? (Zach Berman)
COACH PEDERSON: Alshon has done extremely well this off-season with his rehab. I've been -- not just Alshon but with all our veteran players, to be part of this virtual off-season like they have, I've been really impressed with everybody that's taken part and Alshon is one of the guys. The dialogue that he's had in the receiver room, being able to converse with some of the young players that we have on our roster and just getting themselves back healthy and obviously there's no timetable for him right now. I just want him to focus on his rehab and get strong, but the second part of your question is, he's a big part of our offense, and we do plan to have him in the offense at some point.
But if there's a couple games there where he's not ready, then, we're not going to put him out there and just wait for him to get healthy.
But yeah, he is a big part of the process moving forward, and he's a great leader, and he's going to be able to help the young players come along.
In his most recent mailbag, The Athletic's Bo Wulf was asked about Pederson's comments on Jeffery and whether or not he was just giving the PC answer. Here's what he had to say...
Christopher R. — Dougie P. was pumping up alshon the other day. Smoke screen or are we to expect something from him this season?
I’m of two minds on this one. If Pederson expected Jeffery to be a large part of the offense, this is what he’d say. If he were trying to maintain the illusion that the Eagles still wanted Jeffery in an effort to drum up some kind of trade interest, this is also what he’d say. They’d really have to want Jeffery out of the building* if they were willing to eat $15.4 million for him to simply not be on the team. I’m skeptical that Jeffery can be very helpful in 2020 because he’s a 30-year-old who declined significantly in 2019 and suffered a Lisfranc injury that could be a death knell for a player who can’t really afford to be less dynamic. On the other hand, the only other wide receiver on the roster who offers a different skill set than “run fast” is JJ Arcega-Whiteside. Pederson said that Jalen Reagor has been learning only DeSean Jackson’s position thus far (this probably means nothing, given the absence of meaningful offseason work), which must mean Jeffery and Arcega-Whiteside are currently penciled in as the starters opposite Jackson.
I don’t think you or the Eagles should expect much from Jeffery, but I no longer think the Eagles will simply cut him before the season.
* Maybe social distancing rules and less locker room time decrease the possibility of a fractured locker room? [theathletic.com]
Over at NFL.com, Adam Rank took an in-depth look at the current state of the Eagles franchise heading into the season, including their most important players, their roadmap to a successful season and some questions that will need to be answered along the way — like, will they be able to replace Malcolm Jenkins or will they be able to establish a legit No. 1 receiver?
For starters, he says the Birds' "competitive urgency index" is "REALLY HIGH," which suggests Philly is all in on 2020 season. He's also identified some of the key matchups this season and some overrated and underrated storylines. But let's take a look at three players he things will have the biggest impact on the season...
Projected 2020 MVP: Wentz. The Eagles were two games under .500 in the first week of December last season. No room for error. No receivers to speak of. Wentz took over. During Philadelphia's four-game winning streak to close out the regular season, the quarterback completed 67.6 percent of his passes with a 7:0 TD-to-INT ratio and a 100.8 passer rating. Again, it's absurd anyone has to defend Wentz's resume. In the coming season, I expect him to not only be the team's MVP, but also be in consideration for league MVP. Of course, grouping Wentz with Wilson again ... Neither QB is likely to get any votes if Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers plays a full season, because that's what MVP voters are all about.
2020 breakout star: Miles Sanders, running back. We might have some semantics issues here, because Sanders was really good last year. In fact, the rookie led the team with 1,641 all-purpose yards -- the most for an Eagle since LeSean McCoy in 2013. And Sanders didn't spoil Avengers: Endgame, so he's got that on Shady. Sanders became the fifth rookie in NFL history to record 750 yards rushing and 500 receiving in the Super Bowl era, and was one of just five running backs to accomplish that last year. He's never going to be a Derrick Henry type of running back with 400 carries, but 15-to-20 touches per game is quite a reasonable expectation. Sanders played 72 percent of the snaps in the team's final eight games and averaged just north of 18 touches.
New face to know: Darius Slay, cornerback. Philadelphia has made the playoffs in three consecutive seasons despite having one of the worst secondaries in the league. So it made perfect sense for the Eagles to toss Detroit a third- and fifth-rounder in exchange for Slay, one of the top corners in the game in recent years. Since 2017, Slay has 13 interceptions (tied with Marcus Peters for No. 1 among corners) and 56 passes defensed (alone at No. 1 among corners). Slay apparently had heat with Matt Patricia after a pair of slights from the Lions head coach, including one incident where Patricia told Slay he wasn't "elite." And I don't know what Joe Flacco has to do with any of this, but even Lions haters raised an eyebrow at that Patricia assessment. Slay could also have an impact on Avonte Maddox, who has played well in stretches for the Eagles but has never become a consistent stud. Playing opposite Slay could really help. [nfl.com]
If you look at the power structure of the Eagles, there's no doubt that the four most powerful people inside the NovaCare Complex are owner Jeffrey Lurie, GM Howie Roseman, head coach Doug Pederson, and quarterback Carson Wentz. That's going to be the case for most NFL teams. But how does that quartet of Eagles leaders stack up against the best in the league? Are they the best in the league?
WIP's Eliot Shorr-Parks ranked them, and came away with the Chiefs as the top, which is a much more obvious choice as the defending Super Bowl champions.
While no owner, general manager, head coach or quarterback is perfect, there are not many teams in the NFL that have a better foursome than the Eagles’ group of Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Roseman, Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz. The group is young, accomplished, experienced and talented. While Wentz didn’t play in the Super Bowl, the four showed in 2017 that when they are at their best, they can dominate the league.
But are they the best in the league?
Here is a look at some of the few teams that are at least in the discussion of having a better owner, general manager, head coach and quarterback combo than the Eagles:
Kansas City Chiefs — Lamar Hunt, Brett Veach, Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes
Right now in the NFL it is hard to pick against any group, team or duo that includes Mahomes. He is that good and that far ahead of the rest of the quarterbacks in this league. Reid and Veach are also among the best at their job right now. [94wip.radio.com]
So, where did the Eagles rank? They're in the Top 5, but you'll have to click over to see where exactly they finished.
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